Q & A

From the July/August 1999 Rat & Mouse Gazette

I have a rat who is almost two years old with respiratory disease. She’s been on Amikacin with fair results, but my husband thinks it is toxic and believes maybe she should be put to sleep. I’ve heard about a new drug called Zithromax. Do you know anything about it?

I’m sorry to hear about your rat. Unfortunately, when a rat reaches that age and has respiratory problems, you’re probably looking at a chronic problem. However, I disagree with your husband about the Amikacin, as you well know by reading my article on Gentocin (“ Gentamicin, Antibiotic Treatment for Pet Rats” March /April 1998 - Volume 3, Issue 7). As long as the rat is getting enough fluid intake, the kidneys won’t be damaged. Also, the toxic dose is much higher than what we use. And, as long as your rat is making some improvement and still has interest in food and life, you should continue the treatment. You might want to read my article on Euthanasia (“ Euthanasia” July /August 1998 – Volume 4, Issue 4), or have your husband read it. You certainly don’t want to stop something that may be helping your rat live a more comfortable life. I haven’t seen many rats who really want to go, but I don’t think it’s fair to the rat to let them go before they’re ready.

As far as Zithromax goes, yes, Dr. Mabley in Irvine, California, has been doing research with azithromycin (Zithromax, an azalide, a subclass of the macrolides) for the last couple of years. He has just gotten to the point that he feels comfortable with the dose that works best for rats and we are now recommending it to all rat owners as a great addition to the drug arsenal against respiratory disease. The dose is 4mg per pound twice daily for two weeks and then once daily for another two weeks. It can (if necessary) be combined with other drugs such as Baytril and Doxycycline, but seems to work very well with Doxycycline. It can be obtained in an oral suspension (Cherry flavor) that can be mixed up in smaller quantities than the bottle recommends to make it more affordable for rat owners to use. The rats absolutely love the flavor, too, which is a big plus!

Ask your vet for a 15ml - 200mg bottle. Mix 1 teaspoon of the powder with 3 cc’s of water. The dose is then .10cc per pound. This info will be included in an updated drug article that will appear in a future issue.

You may also want to read my article on caring for sick and elderly rats (“Nursing Care” May/June 1996 - Volume 2, Issue 3) to give you some ideas on helping your rat in her time of need. One thing that should be added in that article is that meal replacement shakes are an excellent source of nutrition for very sick rats who don’t have much of an appetite. I can vouch for the EAS brand Myoplex Deluxe. My rats can’t get enough of the chocolate flavor and it’s packed with lots of great nutrients. However, I’m sure just about any brand would be fine.

~Mary Ann Isaksen

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I have two new rats that are still very young, but they seem to be quite scared of me. I have much trouble getting them out of their cage with my hands. Is there a good way to get them so they are not afraid of my hand when I put it in the cage?

Rats that have not been well socialized – gently handled – will shy away from a contact that is strange to them. Your rats need to learn to associate you with having fun and good times. The easiest way to do this is to bribe them with treats. Allow them to come to the door of the cage – call them or signal that you are offering food. Some people use Cheerios or Rice Krispies cereal. I have to admit that I use yogurt drops – a sweet, fatty treat sold in pet shops made by Vitakraft, that my rats adore. I just have to shake the box and I have all eight of my rat boys dancing at the door.

You have to be patient with new rats. After the rats are comfortable about approaching you, you can pick your rat up by placing your hand under the middle of the rat and lifting. You shouldn’t grab at the neck area or the tail. The skin on the tail is fragile and can be pulled off if you pick up your rat by the tail. Predators in the wild will swoop and grab at the back or neck of the rat, so your rat will not be comfortable if you do it that way.

With very shy rats, I will pull the rat’s cage into a rat-proofed room (my bathroom that has all escape holes covered) and close the door. I open the cage door, put out a dish of fresh fruits and vegetables and sit down on the floor to catch up with my reading. Sometimes, it takes a few days of doing this, but they will get curious and come out. In a short time, they will be scooting all over the place. Soon, they are grooming you and treating you like another rat toy.

~Meg Stephenson

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I just got two baby rats. I feed them regular rat food that has seeds, corn, etc., but I want to give them a treat for good behavior. What should I reward them with?


Rats, like humans, are omnivores. They really enjoy eating a diet that you and I would or should eat. The best diet for rats includes lab blocks (about 80% of their daily intake) – a pellet that was developed as a 100% complete diet for laboratory animals. The seed/grain mix you are feeding is a bit high in fat to be good as a complete diet. It is okay to use in addition to the rat block – as a treat. Harlan Teklad makes the very best lab blocks, which are sold through RMCA. You can also find rodent pellets in the pet stores made by Kaytee, L/M, and Hagen. Add fresh fruits and vegetables every day (just a little at first so they don’t get loose stools). Be sure they always have fresh, clean water to drink in a demand-type water bottle, not a bowl that can be tipped over.

Only about 5% of their diet should be treats. You can add healthy table treats – my rats think green peas, corn on the cob, romaine lettuce, dry pasta twirls, bananas, cooked oatmeal, avocado, and chicken bones are the best treats. As far as sweet treats go, my boys will move mountains for Vitakraft’s yogurt drops for hamsters. Of course, they really love chocolate, but like me, they need very little. Some people use cereal as treats – just the individual pieces. A few sunflower seeds or nuts are usually adored. Watch your rats weight – don’t overfeed – it can be a health risk, just as it is in humans.

~Meg Stephenson

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